I met Sean through my involvement in the Turtle Creek Chorale. He is a cornerstone of the LGBTQ+ community in the Dallas area, though because of his humbleness he would never admit that himself. There are so many lives that he has touched and helped through his time with TCC as well as the many many hours that he dedicates to Cathedral of Hope where he helps lead the music program.
When I decided to to this series, Sean was at the top of the list of people I wanted to get involved. His dedication to the men of the chorale, his love of music, and obsession for Funyuns, diet DrPepper, and wine are just a sliver of attributes that endears him to me. I was thrilled when he agreed to share his time with me to be part of this project.
I'm Sean Baugh, and I'm the Artistic Director of the Turtle Creek Chorale here in Dallas, Texas.
TMP: What does Pride Month mean to you?
Pride Month means a lot of things, and they've... It has meant a lot of things through the years, and I'm not really a rainbow flag-waving, parade participant kind of person during Pride Month, as a matter of fact. It all makes me a little bit uncomfortable, because that's not really what my personality is, and I choose to celebrate Pride in a very personal way, and I use the month of Pride to think about and start to undo a lot of the layers of shame and guilt that has been placed on me as a gay man growing up.
So, Pride for me is very internal, it's a very personal experience, and I choose to take that month to really think about how I can overcome some of those obstacles that have been placed in front of me, and then I can help others overcome those obstacles as well. But you're not going to see a lot of rah-rah-rah from me and a lot of rainbows, and it's just not who I am, and it's not the best way I can spend Pride Month. Not that I take away any of that from anyone, I think we all celebrate differently, but for me it's about recognizing the personal struggles that I've gone through in my life, and just using this time to try to become a better person.
I grew up in a very, very conservative Baptist upbringing and church, and that was my life for many years. So I grew up with a lot of people in leadership adult positions telling me that I was less than, that maybe I wasn't worthy enough, and that I was going to Hell. So it's taken many years, and when I say "Many," 30-plus years to overcome some of that damage, and so when I celebrate Pride, quite honestly I think about that time in my life, and about the messages that I received that really shaped me as an adult gay man, in both positive and negative ways. So when I enter the month of Pride, those memories come back as rather daunting and difficult ones, but also I choose to spend the month thinking about how to continue to overcome a lot of that teaching and a lot of that behavior that I saw growing up.
TMP: For those that feel they are alone and unable to come out, what message do you have for them?
Well, I think the first message is come out on your own time. Your coming out timeline is yours and yours alone, and it is up to nobody else to tell you when the right time to come out is. I would suggest if you are in a place that you need to express who you are, and you're not ready to do so in a public way, find an adult that you can trust, an adult that you value and you know can help guide you through the process so you have people to talk to, people that have already gone through what you are going to go through. But you will know when the time is right, don't let society, or your friends, or your family, or media, or anyone tell you when the time is right to come out. Learn to love yourself first, when you learn yourself... When you love yourself first, other people will be much more apt to love you back when the time is right to come out.
TMP: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self to help you with your coming out experience?
Knowing what I know now, I would tell my younger self, "Sean, just because they're an adult doesn't mean they are right. Just because somebody tells you something with passion also doesn't mean you're... That they are right. And if your gut tells you that something somebody is telling you, or doing to you, or preaching to you is wrong, then it's probably wrong." And growing up I listened to a lot of people that I probably shouldn't have, I let their words get to me and bury deep inside me, and so if I were to tell my younger self to block those voices out, as difficult as that might be, I would definitely do that.
I would also say that to... I would tell my younger self to trust yourself more. If you know that you are a valid human and you are a loved human, and that you belong, which I always knew, then trust yourself on that instinct because it's true, and at some point it'll become very apparent to you, so trust yourself. Listen to those voices inside that are telling you what is right and what is wrong.
TMP: For those that are not part of the community, but want to be allies, what would you impart on them so as to be most helpful?
Honestly, I don't think there's a litmus test necessarily for allies of our community. I think if you can just, and on a very basic level, listen to the needs of people close to you, you're an ally. You don't have to march in parades, you don't have to volunteer, even though all those things are wonderful and great. If you have people in your life that you know are struggling with identity, or are being persecuted, then reach out to those people and listen to them, talk to them. Quite honestly, being an ally can be something as simple as sending a message that says, "I love you, I value you for who you are."
Over my time, especially in the Church when I was young, the most compelling moments were when somebody I wouldn't expect would just sit down and say to me, "Hey, I know what's being done to you, I know what people are telling you, I don't believe that, and I love you for who you are, so be you." And I think on a basic level that's what an ally needs to do, and if you want to do more, well there are plenty of organizations, there are plenty of causes that would welcome your help, but I think you're only really an ally until you are able to personally give somebody in a community what they need.
TMP: What is something that you would like to say to those viewing this, that we have not specifically covered?
You know, I think it's interesting that we record this video on the fourth anniversary of the ruling for marriage equality, and I remember that day, and while others were out celebrating in the street, I was filled with an enormous amount of pressure, and some of those feelings of shame started to creep back in on that day. When everybody was screaming and cheering and celebrating, I was remembering all those voices over the years that told me that I wasn't good enough and that I wasn't worthy of love, and quite honestly those thoughts crept in and made me question whether or not I was even valid for marriage as the Supreme Court was saying I was.
And those feelings didn't last, but it was... It's interesting to me how years and years of shame can stick with you and creep back in at the most inopportune moments. And so I cheered and waved my flags along with them that evening, but I remember all that doubt coming back. And I think that was a good thing, I think it made me stop and understand some of the damage that has been done to me in the name of Church, and in the name of religion, and in the name of their god, and it allowed me to reflect on that day, and even today four years later, allows me to reflect on the fact that it has taken me this long to come to understand that I truly am worthy of love and a relationship that may or may not end in marriage, that I am good enough and worthy enough, and I think that's worth celebrating in and of itself.
I also find it interesting that this interview is coming at the very end of June, so the end of Pride Month, and for somebody that approaches Pride Month in, I think, a really unique and different way, I find myself at the end of this month more proud to be a gay man than I was when I started the month, and I think that's because I spend the time thinking about ways that I can help other people get through some of that horrible and false teaching that I experienced growing up in the Church. So I haven't attended a parade, I haven't attended a rally, but I believe at the end of this Pride Month that I've done things on a personal level that express my pride and express my willingness and desire to help other people who are going through the same kinds of things that I went through overcome those things.
I want to thank Sean for coming in and taking time out of his schedule to be part of this series. It was a pleasure having in come in to speak on what Pride Month means to him.
A big thank you to Bobby Jo Valentine for the use of his music as the backing track for this and all the interviews in this series.